Long Distance Cruising on Yamaha's Sportiest Scooter

2015 Yamaha TMAX 500 Review

2015 Yamaha TMAX 500
Author Cristi Farrell strikes a pose on the 2015 Yamaha TMAX 500. Photo © Robert Pandya

First off, I should say that prior to this weekend, I had never ridden a scooter. Ever. The opportunity never presented itself and I never bothered to remedy that. I guess I have always looked at scooters as a distant relative to the Prius: a safe alternative to something sportier that sips gas and is neither powerful nor fun. Despite my indifference, I recognize their importance in the two-wheeled hierarchy: scooters are the gateway drug to motorcycling.


With the opportunity to join the inaugural Why We Ride-sponsored Ride to the Quail Gathering and a keen desire to be a rebel, I opted to give the 2015 Yamaha TMAX 500 (price: $10,490) scooter a go. The TMAX effortlessly kept pace with the group of naked sportbikes, sport tourers, and cruisers at highway speeds with smooth, seamless power delivery from the continuously variable transmission (CVT). Much like a few Harley riders who looked at me quizzically while I passed them, the TMAX had me wondering – where did all of this power originate from only a 530cc parallel twin? While I cannot say what pinning it will get you on the TMAX, I can assure you smooth sailing at speeds up to at least 90 mph, which is more than you will likely ever need on a traffic-choked freeway…at least in Los Angeles.

Pulling back or releasing the throttle at low speeds lacked both hesitation and jerkiness, making me think that CVT would be pretty ideal in bumper-to-bumper traffic (much like an automotive automatic vs. manual transmission) instead of wearing out first and second gear.

CVT came in handy for those abrupt stops and slowdowns found in most mixed skill level group rides without the need for downshifting and clutch control.

We’ve established the TMAX can pass a cruiser on the highway --but how well does it corner? Answer: pretty damn good. The route from Carmel back to Los Angeles hugged the coastline south along Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur, and inland toward Highway 101 on the ever-so-twisty playground that is Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.

Grippy 15-inch Dunlop Sportmax GPR–100 tires, a well-balanced center of gravity from use of the engine as a stressed member, a rear shock with 4.6 inches of travel, and a comparatively low wet weight (485 pounds) from the use of die-cast aluminum for the frame, swingarm, and wheels factor into solid handling capability on some of California’s best roads.

Dual hydraulic 267mm front disc brakes and a single 282mm rear disc brake provide more than adequate stopping power on the TMAX. The intense strength of the rear brake coupled with the lack of ABS as a feature (or an option) means one must tread lightly on application to avoid rear wheel lockup.

On long distance rides, ergonomics are more noticeable than on a quick hop to the supermarket.  Wind protection is typically a concern and the windscreen at standard height does a decent job at deflecting it for someone of average height. The ease of adjustability of said windscreen leaves a little to be desired however if you find yourself to be vertically gifted. The TMAX has one of the most comfortable seats I have ever been on – and that’s saying a lot for someone whose usual ride is a dual-sport tourer. A seat height of 31.5 inches might deter a few inseam-challenged riders, but the below-the-seat bodywork might drive actual inseam requirements a bit higher.

The TMAX sets you up with two foot position options – forward facing like highway pegs on a cruiser and directly beneath the seat on the floorboards. While I preferred to have my feet firmly planted downward, the second option was a refreshing change of pace…and to be able to stretch, divine. The only ergonomic issue I experienced was the height of the handlebars. During short distance tours, I probably would not have noticed; but given the six-hour day in the saddle, I noticed that they could be a little higher to improve my own personal comfort as I am fairly tall (5’10”).

As a solo traveler, I kept passenger footpegs in the upright position and used the extra seat space and rear grab bars to tie down a US 20-liter Kriega drypack to carry a few extra things. Locked storage space beneath the seat is generous enough to fit four days of clothing changes, a leather jacket, a pair of Converse sneakers, black stilettos, a Canon Rebel T2i equipped with a wide angle lens, a travel-size hair dryer, and toiletries.

For those not taking the plunge on long distance road trips, it does in fact fit one full-face helmet with space left for a few small items to stow away.

I may have been unnecessarily judgmental about the whole scooter experience before I spent four days riding one. Overall, I had more fun than I ever thought I would have anticipated on a scooter in a sea of American iron and sport tourers. Good-natured ribbing from fellow riders along the way only affected me so much before I passed them, so…I guess we all have a little something to learn from the experience.

As a new rider who may be leaning toward a scooter in lieu of a manual transmission motorcycle or someone solely interested in a weekday commuter that can still hang with the “big boys” on the weekends, I highly recommend giving the Yamaha TMAX a shot. Or, if you’re anything like me, perhaps life calls for a lazy, shift-free, shamelessly fulfilling ride alongside your friends who clearly notice who may be having the most fun.